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Words about writing…with writers

In this month’s newsletter, we’re talking perfectionism and proposal writing with author and psychotherapist, Katherine Schafler.

Stephanie Zollshan for The Berkshire Eagle

In certain domains of my life (writing!) I’ve always been a perfectionist. In others (car maintenance? Accounting?) I have not. I know that when it comes to meeting deadlines and delivering quality content as a writer, my perfectionism serves me. But it sure as hell gets in my way when it comes to “letting go” or managing events or circumstances that I can’t control. That’s why I was so excited to talk to Katherine—who is currently shopping a book proposal about perfectionism—about the pros and cons of a trait that helps (and hinders!) so many of us. (Including me! I wrote about my own struggles with the p-word here a while back.)

Interview with Katherine Schafler

I’m thrilled to have Katherine Schafler, LMHC, a New York-based psychotherapist, join us for January. Katherine specializes in working with with women who look put together and successful to actually feel that way. I love Katherine’s reflections on perfectionism and book proposal writing, and I think that you will, too!

Your book, “The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control” is about how perfectionism isn’t a negative trait. For this particular project, why did it feel important to try to sell a proposal rather than a completed manuscript?

With fiction, I can imagine the pressing sense of, it needs to be written exactly this way and the writer being correct in their artistic insistence. I don’t have that with my non-fiction book. I have the pressing sense of, readers need to connect to the utility of the message, please help me to make sure that happens. I’m very aware that while I’m the expert in the message of the book, my agent and other editors are the experts in the market. I wanted (and needed) the openness and collaboration that a proposal offers in order to merge the worlds of message and market most successfully.

What are the different archetypes of perfectionists you identify in your proposal, and which one are you?

Since perfectionism operates on a continuum, every perfectionist has a sprinkling of each type within them, though one is usually dominant. I’m a “Parisian Perfectionist” with a significant tilt toward “Messy Perfectionism.” In a few specific circumstances, very predictably, the “Angry Perfectionist” in me definitely makes a cameo.

Writing a book, getting an agent, selling a book…all this takes dedication, determination, attention to details, it takes perfectionism! What elements of your own perfectionism helped you write the proposal for your book, and which (if any) got in your way?

Every element of my perfectionism helped me write this book. To begin with, it helped me spot a meaningful hole in the market that my book could fill. So many books address perfectionists with shame-inducing, pathologizing language (cure your perfectionism, overcome your perfectionism…). The perfectionist in me thought, “This is all wrong, I’m not going to be able to sleep until I fix this.”

Perfectionists are people who see room for improvement in everything—they are constantly in touch with possibility. Perfectionists aren’t drawn to moderation or ease – difficulty is a siren song; that’s why so many perfectionists are writers! Without that palpable, daily sense of possibility, I don’t think I could’ve made it through the points where I truly had no idea what I was doing.

What’s your best advice for writers whose perfectionism holds them back in some way?

Embrace who you naturally are. You’re never going to stop being a perfectionist, so you can either become really curious about your perfectionism and learn to use it to your advantage, or you can exhaust yourself trying (and repeatedly failing) to “get rid of” this fundamental part of who you are. Before you decide that you hate your perfectionism, consider exploring the upsides!

Thank you for joining us, Katherine! Good luck with your proposal! Readers, you can visit Catapult for more information about proposal writing, or you can check out the section on this subject in BEFORE AND AFTER THE BOOK DEAL, bien sur!

What I’m excited about this month:

My fourth book is three weeks old! The enthusiasm and support we are receiving for BEFORE AND AFTER THE BOOK DEAL is tremendous. And exciting!

I’m hearing from writers as well as agents and editors that this book is impacting positive changes in the way people are approaching their writing: thank you SO much for everyone who has taken the time to purchase my new book and to say something nice about it online! (And that you, Catapult, for doing such a good job of publishing it!) I particularly loved going on WNYC’s “All of It” with Alison Stewart to answer writer’s questions live on air and talking with WAMC’s The Round Table about debut book pressure, one-star trolls, and the dreaded “platform.”

Does adult summer camp sound like something you’d be in to? If so, please visit TheCabinsRetreat.com to find out about the collaborative retreat program I founded in 2016. We are open for applications until March 15th and we consider ALL artists, not just writers! We only take 9 people a session, so don’t drag your feet, now. We’ve also got a brand new scholarship for a woman or non-binary creative thanks to our friends at The Freya Project!

Lit Bytes!

What I’m loving now: The Sleep With Me podcast which has saved my mind during my habitual 4am wake-ups while I’m on book tour. The host, Drew Ackerman, shares non-sensical narratives that basically force your mind to give up on understanding them so that you can fall back to sleep. It really calms the vigilante night guard that seems to live inside my head. Thanks, Drew!

What I’m reading now: Mary Gaitskill’s astonishing novel about a childless woman who goes a bit too far with a Fresh Air Fund visitor to her home upstate.
What I’m reading next: R.O Kwon has a great list of 56 books by women and non-binary writers of color to read in 2020, and this book, by the Brazilian author Carola Saavedra about a divorced man receiving obsessive letters from a stranger has me big time intrigued.
Where I’m touring next for BEFORE AND AFTER THE BOOK DEAL:

Jan 27: Providence, RI publishing talk with What Cheer Writing Group and Cardigan Connection, 7pm

Jan 28: Boston, MA publishing panel at WBUR City Space with author Michelle Hoover, “The Social Network” screenwriter Ben Mezrich and literary agent Edmond Harmsworth, 6:30pm

Feb 15: Philadelphia, PA masterclass on querying with Blue Stoop, 9:45am.

More info on workshops, private consultations and all other events on courtneymaum.com

See you out there in lit land! Feel free to share news of my lectures and workshops with any friends you might have in these respective places…I love seeing friends of friends while I am on tour. And making new friends, too!